17 July 2015

Coyote Peaks: Little Kern River

Sequoia National Forest

DAY 1 | DAY 2 | DAY 3

(Day 1 of 3) Bernard wanted to hit the trail for a few days, which became a few less days. When he was saying 5 days, I was thinking Woodchuck Country and Blackcap Basin, but when he said we would have to be back by Monday, I quickly changed to the peaks I looked at last November and decided I could not include after all. The unknown nature of water availability was the problem then and is still a problem now, but easier to deal with on a shorter trip carrying less food. After calling in for my permit, I realized I could do the loop clockwise and water would probably be easier on the way up. We must have psychic people filling these out, because that was how my permit was already set up for me. We dropped ourselves in Lewis Camp the evening before, ready to hit the trail in the morning.

entering Golden Trout Wilderness
Again entering Golden Trout Wilderness from Lewis Camp.

I was told to expect water only at the river and lakes because of the drought. This is workable, but not ideal. Meeting a hiker on the way out, we get a little better news. He says the creeks are fairly dry around here, but as we get higher things get wetter. We also accuse him of being from Santa Barbara, since we saw a Cottage Hospital sticker in the parking lot. He is not that one, but he is from the county and teaches at Midland School. It seems a little odd that half the vehicles in the lot come from the same somewhat distant county. Of course, after commenting on it, we go back to wandering down toward the Little Kern River and enjoying the views through the trees. There are many granite domes close at hand and far across the valley are the twin peaks we are aiming at.

dirt path between the trees
A section of trail as we drop down into the valley.

sphere of granite coming up with a few trees
One of the nearby domes.

twin peaks in the distance
Looking to the distant mountains.

We turn off the main trail down to the bridge at the first sign pointing to Grey Meadow and follow that down instead. There seem to be a few extra trails around, but we find our way to the ranger station. Fish Creek is indeed just a dry ditch, but we cross a small creek on the way into the meadow that has water, even if it is rather slow moving and not very attractive. We take a little time to poke around the old cow camp that is now a remote ranger station. The place is closed up and there is no one here today. There are a couple buildings and outbuildings, fenced pasture and open sheds.

Grey Meadow Ranger Station
Grey Meadow Ranger Station includes two cabins. The closest is marked "Shannon's Cow Camp est 1917" and has a dog house just around the corner.

Grey Meadow has several trails out. We go for one of the northerly routes expecting it to take us to Alpine Creek and the Little Kern. We pass a couple campsites with picnic tables on the way out. Up in some granite, there is a stream that might be Clicks Creek that is also flowing. We pass the trail to Mountaineer Creek before coming to a wide open spot where the river, such as it is, can be heard. Further along, there seems to be a camp site and the trail seems to split into about three different trails.

rounded rocks
Coming to a roll of bedrock.

flood plain of the Little Kern River
Two posts marking a campsite in the flood plain of the Little Kern River.

We stop for water and a little confusion. Once we get to the river, we should cross it rather than following a second trail up Alpine Creek. The third trail is a bonus and there is no sign to suggest which we might want. We end up crossing the creek, heading up the river slightly, then crossing and doubling back to start climbing up the hills on the other side. There is no rock hop across the river and Bernard elects to cool off by wandering right on through. He says it feels great, but I can only think of slushy shoes and take a little longer to cross while keeping mine dry. The correct trail is easy enough to find as we double back. What I had taken as an island in the river is actually the bitter end of the dividing ridge between creek and river.

on the trail again
Back on the trail and looking down at what little there is of the Little Kern River.

The day is getting warm and the sun reflects off the very light sand and gravel for a second chance at warming us. We can feel it whenever we put our head down to pay more attention to the trail.

through the trees
Heading north, but somehow our faces are quite warm with sun along this trail.

Little Kern River Valley
Although in the trees, we still get views.

peaks and granite dome
More peaks and a granite dome through the trees.

The horses and mules are clustered by the gate at Pyles Camp as we arrive. Someone must be up there today. Table Creek was a moist spot with a bit of flowers, but Lion Creek is certainly flowing down from the cabin area. Sheep Creek is even better as Bernard stops for some more water.

gate marked private property
One mule at Pyles Camp, apparently ready to go.

meadow with more buildings
Pyles Camp includes some buildings well distanced from the trail in the trees across Lion Meadow. The target peaks rise behind it.

The evidence of old fire is increasing as we make our way toward Rifle Camp. A sign marks one of the unmaintained trails up to Coyote Lakes. A location poster along the way provides a quick diversion, but we come up empty looking for it. The poster measures the distance in chains and our guess is too short for the conversion to feet. There are the bear torn remains of a squatter's camp, but that is hardly a great discovery. Tamarack proves to have an exceptional flow of water as well as an extensive cow camp with fenced pasture. Bernard remembers someone in our travels on the east side of the Sierras saying this is a favorite spot.

Tamarack Cow Camp
The cow camp at Tamarack Creek is quite extensive.

fenced pasture at Tamarack
Turn around and there is fenced in pasture at Tamarack Creek.

After the camp at Tamarack Creek, the trail deteriorates quite a bit. The old burn is far more obvious now. It was a crown fire through here and some areas of the forest were completely destroyed. Standing dead trees are everywhere. It is not what one wants to see when a few miles from the planned campsite.

scared trees and dead trees in a destroyed area
A section of destroyed trees, although a few seem to have come through it.

We wind around one hill into a narrow portion of the valley. Down a steep slope, the Little Kern River flows with plenty of water. As we come around, things are much worse. The forest was thicker here and now the trees lie across the trail. Bernard tends to go around them and I tend to go over and we generally come to the same line eventually. It gets particularly hard when one tree is along the trail and two more cross it. Yet, somehow, there are ever present mule tracks.

Little Kern River
The Little Kern River is at hand again, although difficult to access.

cedar tree
A magnificent old cedar tree rises among the cliffs beside the Little Kern River.

We lose the trail completely as we get close to Rifle Camp. After crossing a pathetic looking creek, we find it again and try backtracking to the camp, but find nothing that even looks like it was once a camp in the location indicated by the map. The state of the water source does nothing to encourage further looking and we turn to see what Rifle Creek proper has to offer.

brush coming up under chared trunks
Beneath the standing hulks of dead and burned trees, new growth is coming in to make finding the trail even harder.

Rifle Creek is a much nicer water source. Above it, the destruction by the fire was quite complete. We will find no camping spots up there. Downstream from the trail, there is a rocky area that looks promising. Investigation comes up with a well used camping area with fire rings and a few spots that look suitable for a comfortable sleep. It even seems suitably far from anything standing and dead. After an 18 mile day, we finally drop into camp.

mostly burned toothpicks
The area burned by the Lion Fire of 2012 near Rifle Creek.

Continue reading: day 2

©2015 Valerie Norton
Posted 5 Sep 2015

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